By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As a dish best served cold, revenge can be a meal in itself.
It’s certainly the entrée in the just-deserts drama Dead Man Down, which offers a shaky beginning and ending but a terrific middle.
Dead Man Down is a hard-edged, violent revenge thriller, a modern film noir that director Niels Arden Oplev chooses to start with what seems like a standard-issue mindless shootout.
Later, he does the same thing in the film’s bullet-riddled, logic-ignoring climax.
More’s the pity, because what transpires between those two entirely forgettable sequences is an interesting, provocative, intense, and unusual portrait of revenge mixed with romance.
Colin Farrell plays Victor, a transplanted Hungarian working as an enforcer for New York City crime boss Alphonse, played by Terrence Howard, who was responsible for the deaths of Victor’s wife and daughter.
Seeking revenge by insinuating himself into Alphonse’s inner circle and taking his time planning his elaborate and cathartic payback scheme, Victor lives a solitary and secretive life.
Noomi Rapace is Beatrice, Victor’s facially disfigured apartment complex neighbor (it’s the apartment that’s complex, but so is the neighbor) in Queens. She’s also on a search for vengeance of a different sort, but she sure could use Victor’s help.
So, with incriminating evidence of a criminal act that Victor committed, she blackmails him into helping her.
And an odd romantic relationship develops between these two damaged, tortured, obsessive characters, who bond over their mutual desire for revenge.
This is the first American film from Danish director Oplev, best known for the original Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which also starred Rapace.
The screenplay by JH Wyman, with its demonstration of the way revenge warps the mind, juggles two revenge plots in a way that strains credulity at times but that manages to be character-driven enough for us to develop a rooting interest in both characters — and thus in them as a couple.
We already know that Rapace is an astonishingly skilled actress and she doesn’t disappoint here, combining moving vulnerability and red-hot anger, while Farrell is impressively expressive with his less-is-more approach to his taciturn character.
As for their chemistry, it’s no more showy or demonstrative than it needs to be, but it gets the job done.
Best of all, their relationship feels like something we haven’t seen much of on the movie screen before as it blossoms among all the R-rated violence.
So we’ll avenge 2½ stars out of 4 for the study-in-revenge melodrama, Dead Man Down. See it for what’s between the shoot-em-up bookends, which is neither down nor dead.